Most Canadian publishers are reporting that sales through the first six months of 2015 are steady, compared to the first half of last year. The reports from publishers align with data from BookNet Canada. CEO Noah Genner says that, based on BookNet’s panel of stores, unit sales of print books were down approximately 1% through the end of August, compared to the same period in 2014. One reason for the flat sales has been the lack of a massive breakthrough title, Genner says, although Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman and E.L. James’s 50 Shades follow-up Grey did “very well,” and Paula Hawkins’s The Girl on the Train and Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See were “standout titles.” The latter was a huge boon to Simon & Schuster Canada, which is having a good year so far, according to president Kevin Hanson.
President and CEO Brad Martin says sales at Penguin Random House Canada were up about 2% in the first half of 2015, while returns were down 12%. Martin says the company is expecting a big fall season, with the publication of literary icon Margaret Atwood’s new novel, The Heart Goes Last, and other projected hits from Canadian authors.
Sales are also up at HarperCollins Canada, a publisher that lost its longtime president and CEO, David Kent, at the end of 2014 as part of a restructuring effort. Iris Tupholme, who has been promoted to senior v-p and executive publisher, says last fall was especially successful in terms of major awards: three of the six books shortlisted for the Giller Prize were HarperCollins titles, and the Governor General’s Award winners in both fiction and nonfiction were published by HarperCollins. “Almost everything in our world has changed, and one of the things I’m most proud of is that despite these huge changes—many things that are part of our daily life changed—we have probably the best list coming in the next year,” Tupholme says.
Firefly Books, Touchwood Editions, and the kid lit publisher Annick Press report first-half sales about equal to the first six months of 2014, while Vancouver’s Talonbooks was down by about 10%. Edmonton’s NeWest Press and Victoria’s Orca Book Publishers, on the other hand, were up about 10% over last year. Orca publisher Andrew Wooldridge expects a big fall season, with the publication of the Secrets series, seven simultaneously published books aimed at girls, in the same vein as their bestselling Seven series for boys. “There’s a real vitality in Canadian publishing right now in terms of the kind of stuff that’s being produced,” Wooldridge says. “It’s pretty amazing.”
Vancouver’s Arsenal Pulp Press had its best year ever in 2014, and in 2015 sales continue to be solid, publisher Brian Lam says. The standout title has been Raziel Reid’s YA novel When Everything Feels Like the Movies, which won last year’s Governor General’s Award for Children’s Literature, and this February was a finalist on Canada Reads, the CBC’s annual battle of the books. Meanwhile, the National Post ran an opinion piece decrying the book, about a troubled queer teenager, as a “values-void novel.” According to Lam, “that scandal really ignited sales for the book, and it’s now in its fifth printing, with sales of about 25,000 so far.” (Toronto’s Coach House Books, whose sales were up about 30% this year, also reported a major boost from Canada Reads, as its And the Birds Rained Down by Jocelyne Saucier was also a finalist.)
One unexpected trend that has popped up in Canada is the rise of the adult coloring book, which Dundurn Press publicist Jim Hatch calls “the weirdest trend in the universe.” That didn’t stop Dundurn from getting in on the trend itself. All the Libraries Toronto—by Toronto artist and urban geographer Daniel Rotsztain, who made illustrations of all 100 Toronto public library branches—is set for October. Arsenal Pulp Press is publishing two of its own adult coloring books next spring: The Yves Saint Laurent Coloring Book and The Jean Cocteau Coloring Book. Lam hopes to appeal to the “Peter Pan market”—adults seeking to return to the simpler times of their youth. “I think it’s all about innocence, and also just putting down your computer and your tablet and doing something with your hands,” he says. “It doesn’t require a lot of thought.” University of Regina Press, in Saskatchewan, is getting involved in the trend, too, with a marketing initiative that will see it release a coloring page—available to download for free—for many fall titles and previous bestsellers.
One event Canadian publishers won’t be seeing this fall is the Inspire Book Fair, a massive consumer fair that debuted in Toronto in November 2014. Organizers announced in February that the event would not be continuing because they “were not able to secure a timely commitment from exhibitors regarding their participation for a second year.”
Many publishers who participated last year expressed disappointment, but not necessarily surprise, that the event would not go on. The fair was widely seen as not attracting enough guests over its three-day run. Publishers who spoke to PW cited a number of issues with last year’s event, such as the Santa Claus Parade happening the same weekend, the $15 entry fee for the public, and the high cost for publishers to rent a booth, as well as the concern that the fair was potentially taking away business from local bookstores during the crucial pre-Christmas season.
Linda Leith, founder of Linda Leith Publishing and of Blue Metropolis, Montreal’s annual international literary festival, says it is a “great pity” that the Inspire Book Fair didn’t succeed. “Canceling it after one year is such a waste, and I think it should have been given another chance, and that it would have found its audience,” she says. “I don’t think you can expect it to emerge fully fledged in year one.”
But Canada did gain an unexpected literary event in 2015: the first annual Canadian Authors for Indies Day, on May 2, modeled after the Indies First campaign in the U.S. Spearheaded by author Janie Chang, the event attracted 692 authors, who visited 123 stores across the country for events meant to raise the profile of indie bookstores. BookNet Canada’s Genner says that participating stores saw an average 18.5% increase in sales following the event, “so there was definitely an effect on the stores we monitored.” Mark Startup of the Retail Council of Canada says it was “a wonderful event” across the entire country. “The feedback we got from booksellers in our community was exceptionally positive,” he adds. The event is scheduled to take place again next year on April 30.
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